Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A new but familiar direction…

You might have seen the press release by now, the one announcing that I've been given the opportunity to resume a familiar role at a company that I deeply like and respect, one that is run and staffed by people I feel the same way about. Furthermore, it's one that I played a role in establishing in North America in the early years of this decade. . That company is Ex Libris North America. It is a much larger company now and certainly poses some significant new challenges, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity.

Taking on this position was not an easy decision, and I realize many people have considered me an open-source “evangelist” and will wonder what my new role means, if anything, about open source.

First, I think it fair to point out that moving to Ex Libris is not a move to the “dark side,” as some will undoubtedly portray it, but is, in fact, a move to an enlightened side. Ex Libris has done a lot lately in opening up the company platforms. I watched and admired the announcements about the new openness of Primo, and the ALA announcement about moving toward “open platforms.” I felt that this was one company that understood that open source was making a change in the software marketplace, and clearly, Ex Libris was listening. You might also recall, if you've followed this blog from its humble beginnings, that I've always said that I believed that open source and proprietary solutions would exist side by side, that they would affect each other, and that sometimes they would be married together to meet the solution needs of the customer. I took a fair amount of heat over that approach from some segments of the open-source community, in particular with regard to OpenTranslators, but I believed it then and I believe it now. Thus, the Ex Libris open-platform strategy seemed like both a comfortable and good fit to me and one that Ex Libris felt I could make a contribution to by returning to the company. I was certainly flattered and appreciative. I will take what I've learned in the open-source community and apply it to the world of open platforms. I think it'll be a positive for both existing customers and new customers of Ex Libris. As for the open-source community, I'll stay involved. I still believe that open source has an important role to play and should be welcomed into the community for a lot of positive reasons. Is it for everyone? No, but that's something else I've said from the beginning. If it fits, sure. But if it doesn't, then there are solutions that offer some of the same benefits of open source, with their own distinct set of other benefits. The choice is yours, and ultimately, you'll decide what is right for your organization.

So bottom line, rest easy. Open source is alive and well, and while I'm switching gears slightly, I'll still be a strong believer. My decision is absolutely no reflection on the viability of open source, companies that back open source, or the role of open source in the library community. It does reflect the belief that for some organizations to get the benefits of openness, they need it paired with solutions that utilize the best of both proprietary and open-source solutions--a slight shift from where I was, but not a major one. The very fact that one leading company is moving in that direction makes me feel like open source has achieved something else of great benefit to libraries. I'm proud to be a part of it all.

Finally, I think it's also important to mention that while my commitment to open source was a major first hurdle to clear in my decision process about taking the Ex Libris position, personal reasons also played heavily into this decision. The Ex Libris North American offices are in Chicago, the city where our son lives. Living in the southeastern part of the country, we don't get to see him nearly as much as we'd like (although I understand that he might not share this opinion!), but this will make it more probable that we can close that gap. Chicago is also closer to where my aging parents live (St. Louis), making it much easier for us to get to their side when our assistance is needed. Finally, my wife travels weekly in her work, so being near one of the largest airports in the country put a smile on her face. So, that may be more info than you wanted to know, but jobs are filled by people and people have lives outside of work and so do I. So all these factors weighed into our decision. No, it wasn't easy to leave behind the small but growing company we were building. But we've found other companies to take over the contracts and business we built, and those companies are run by very good people in the open-source community. So we feel comfortable knowing we've left our customers in good care ;-) Of course, we want to thank all of you who did business with CARE--your business was appreciated, and I'd love to do business with all of you again should your needs and the Ex Libris offerings match.